The Annual General Conference (AGC) of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) is arguably the largest gathering of lawyers in Africa. When Nigerian lawyers gather at the AGC, they invite men and women of high repute, from various works of life. These personalities (which include world leaders, top government officials, business executives, and icons) join in rich conversations geared towards addressing issues of national importance. This year’s AGC which held in Abuja is the 63rd in the series. The theme was “Getting it Right: Charting the Course for Nigeria’s Nation Building.”

Beyond the debates and dialogue, the AGC provides Nigerian lawyers an avenue to network, connect and reconnect with associates, friends, schoolmates, among others. 

The “Unbarred Party” & Portable

It is acknowledged that all work and no play makes a lawyer “dull”. Consequently, the NBA usually incorporates an official party night into the conference in the form of a closing party. It is termed, “Unbarred”. It is “unbarred” because on this night, the bar of sobriety and decorum is lifted. Lawyers, as members of the bar,  are permitted to party like the fate of remaining members of the bar depends on it. They are to rock and roll, and may throw caution to a gentle wind. Of course, being unbarred doesn’t lift the bar against crime. Thus, an “unbarred lawyer” may find himself or herself behind bars if crime is committed. 

In the whole contemplation of the Unbarred Party night, it was never conceived that persons of questionable character would be permitted to anchor such an event or participate in any capacity. This informs the reason the whole country was alarmed when the Nigerian artiste by the name Habeeb Okikiola (“Portable”) was unleashed on stage as a guest artiste at the Unbarred Party which was recently held in Abuja on 30 August 2023. Perhaps inviting Ifunanya, the “Baddest Lawyer”, to help us all get unbarred would have been less shocking.

Portable is a controversial figure who is sometimes seen as possessing questionable character. By this, I do not refer in any way to his acts as an entertainer. Not at all. He is of questionable character based on available reports about his recent actions. Also, a person may be of questionable character even without any criminal conviction. So it is enough that there are several unpalatable stories associated with such a personality. 

Recently, the Nigeria(n) Police Force accused the singer of unruly behaviour and conduct likely to cause a breach of peace. He was also accused of incitement of violence against some police officers who were detailed to execute a warrant of arrest on him for a series of allegations of criminal acts. 

Until Portable clears himself of these and other allegations, his character may be safely termed as questionable. 

Notwithstanding, through what appears like an indirect invitation, Portable found his way on stage and was expected to perform as an artiste. I was there. I watched him mount the podium. He was handed over the microphone. In a few seconds he pulled his native top and was left with his native pants. 

But to my astonishment, Portable didn’t utter a word of music. With his songs being played in the background by the DJ, he ran round the Velodrome, climbing poles like a drone. By his performance, he bore holes in the heart of many lawyers who left in disbelief and displeasure. He lost the opportunity to dilute the agitations against his presence by failing to deliver a thrilling musical performance.

Getting it Wrong

Whether intentionally or unintentionally, the NBA appears to have gotten it wrong. The organisers of the Conference are responsible for every event that took place within the Conference venue. The Unbarred Party was held at the venue, precisely at the Velodrome (a section of the National Stadium). It was at this Velodrome that Nigeria’s President, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and the Conference keynote speaker, Tony Elumelu, were both hosted, together with other dignitaries and government functionaries during the opening ceremony.

Interestingly, the NBA has supplied what seems like a valid explanation regarding the development. My good friend, the National Publicity Secretary of the NBA, Akorede Lawal, reportedly confirmed that Portable was invited to perform by the headline sponsor of the Conference, the Cubana Group. Incidentally, Portable is an ambassador of one of Cubana’s brands. 

By this, the NBA successfully passed the buck to Cubana Group. The implication of the explanations is that the NBA appears to acknowledge that Portable was probably unsuitable to be the anchor man of the Unbarred Party. The media backlash might have also inspired the unequivocal denial of the controversial singer. I concede that this backlash tends to flow from the perception that Portable’s genre of music and style is seen as incompatible to the tenets and ethics of the learned community. Thus, making him a misfit for the event.


Whatever the case, the NBA is enjoined to continue to champion the course of Getting it Right. In keeping with the theme of the 2023 Conference, the NBA will surely continue to strive for excellence and promotion of the rule of law.

Stephen Azubuike
Author: Stephen Azubuike
Stephen is a lawyer with expertise in Commercial Dispute Resolution and Technology Law practice. He is a Partner at Infusion Lawyers. He has successfully argued cases from the High Courts of various jurisdictions to the Appellate Courts on behalf of financial institutions, other corporate bodies and multinationals. He has advised a number of both established and startup tech companies. He tweets @siazubuike.
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